Lord Heseltine has dismissed the rise of Ukip as a “mid-term protest” and insists the Tories are in a “pretty good” position ahead of the 2015 general election.
The famously pro-European peer was speaking to the Yorkshire Post ahead of yesterday’s grim showing by the Tories in local elections around the country, but was under no illusion that they were set to suffer at the ballot box under current circumstances.
“I always think back to ’81 – two years into Lady Thatcher’s first government – when we were in terrible trouble,” he said.
“No-one had heard of the Falklands; they hadn’t sold a single council house; we had three million unemployed, and we were hated. That’s a difficult sell! And we won the next election.”
A veteran of more election campaigns than he cares to remember, Lord Heseltine was relaxed about national polls showing the Tories nine per cent behind Ed Miliband’s Labour Party.
“When you look at the present position of the Government, it’s actually pretty good,” he said. “Nine points behind is nothing, in mid-term. Nothing!
“If you looked two years in from each of the previous elections, you would find this is pretty impressive. They are not far behind, and the economy is turning.
“My view is it’s all to play for.”
Lord Heseltine insisted he was not perturbed by Ukip, suggesting the party’s rise has little to do with antipathy towards the EU.
“There’s always a mid-term protest,” he said. “It used to be the Lib Dems. They’re now tied up with Government, so they can’t be a protest group. So Ukip has arrived.
“Curiously enough, the more you look into the polling, the less Europe is prominent. I don’t think Europe has anything like the relevance they give it credit for.
“They use Ukip support as if it’s all anti-Europe; actually, a lot of it is anti-immigration.”
Unsurprisngly, Lord Heseltine made clear he is “not in favour” of David Cameron holding a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU – but has no doubt about the likely outcome.
“If it happens, the pro-Europeans will win,” he said. “And the Prime Minister will campaign on that side.”